LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. | The young Hoyas crumbled in the clutch.
After outplaying No. 12 Tennessee for more than 30 minutes in the semifinals of the Old Spice Classic, No. 21 Georgetown imploded down the stretch, falling 90-78 to a scrappier squad that exposed the Hoyas’ biggest weaknesses.
“I think our team played better for longer stretches today [than it did in its opening-round victory against Wichita State on Thursday],” Georgetown coach John Thompson III said. “The effort was there, but that’s not good enough. … I don’t think [either game] is indicative of where we’re going to be.”
Like the rest of the eight-team field at Disney World, the Hoyas (3-1) have Saturday off before playing in the third-place game Sunday against Maryland.
When 6-foot-11 freshman phenom Greg Monroe sliced through the lane and flipped home a reverse to give the Hoyas a 65-57 lead with 9:11 remaining, the pro-Volunteers crowd at the Milk House fell silent, and Georgetown seemed poised to notch the first landmark victory of the post-Hibbert/Wallace era.
The Volunteers (7-0) had other ideas. On the next possession, Tennessee took advantage of Georgetown’s primary weakness, pulling down three offensive rebounds before Suitland product Bobby Maze (14 points, nine assists) put an exclamation point on a six-point possession with a 3-pointer from deep in the corner.
The exchange seemed to deflate the Hoyas as much as it inspired the Vols, and Georgetown responded with a series of uncharacteristic unforced turnovers. While the Vols surged down the stretch behind Maze, forward Tyler Smith (21 points) and reserve gunner Cameron Tatum (17 on 5-for-6 shooting from behind the arc), the Hoyas lost their poise on one end of the floor … and Tatum on the other.
Georgetown’s next nine possessions after Tennessee’s six-point possession resulted in four turnovers, an errant 3-point attempt by sophomore point guard Chris Wright (18 points), two half-empty trips to the free throw line and two buckets. After the last of Jessie Sapp’s five turnovers (a five-second call forced by Maze’s tight defense), Tennessee ended a 23-6 run leading 80-71 with two minutes remaining.
What possibly couldn’t be helped was Tennessee’s offensive efficiency during the stretch. The Vols are almost twice as deep as the Hoyas, who don’t have a single bench player with significant game experience with the team. The fatigued starters were doing their best to collapse on Smith in the paint while maintaining contact with Tennessee’s long wings. But Georgetown couldn’t stop everything, particularly not the 6-6 Tatum, who was so hot that he banked in the last of his four 3s in the final six minutes.
Four Volunteers reserves played double-digit minutes, and the Tennessee extras outscored Georgetown’s bench 37-12.
“Our five is good, but our 10 is what makes us different and maybe better,” Tennessee coach Bruce Pearl said. “There’s no drop-off. I think we wore them down a little, and some of the turnovers they just kind of handed to us because I think they were fatigued.”
Perhaps the Hoyas were exhausted, but the most disconcerting thing about Friday’s loss was that the two guards with the most experience on the team - Sapp and fellow returning starter Austin Freeman - came unglued with the game on the line. The pair combined for 11 turnovers. And it wasn’t simply a matter of Tennessee’s withering pressure; Wright had run the point for 38 minutes without committing a single miscue.
“You can look at the stat sheet and make assumptions, say this guy or that guy didn’t play well,” Thompson said. “But we win and lose as a team, and everybody in that locker room needs to get better. … We’re still a work in progress. Hopefully we learned and got better today. But we’re going to get there.”